0206 GMT February 23, 2020
"We're making movies," Yogendra Gupta, a researcher at Washington State University, said. "We're watching them in real time. We're making nanosecond movies," UPI reported.
Gupta is the director of Washington State's Institute of Shock Physics, where researchers have been perfecting an imaging technique that uses shock waves to visualize the molecular structure of various materials.
The latest technological breakthrough allows researchers to document structural transformation under pressure, a task that until now relied exclusively on computer modeling.
"For the first time, we can determine the structure," Gupta said. "We've been assuming some things but we had never measured it."
In the lab, Gupta and his colleagues exposed silicon to intense pressure and recorded its transformation from a cubic diamond structure to a hexagonal structure.
They did so by subjecting the silicon to high-brilliance X-ray beams produced by the Advanced Photon Source synchrotron — a device at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.
The X-rays create diffraction patterns as they pass through the morphing material. The patterns are sensed and transcribed in 5-billionths of a second, revealing the transforming structure in real time.
"People haven't used X-rays like this before," said researcher Stefan Turneaure. "Getting these multiple snapshots in a single impact experiment is new."
Turneaure is the lead author of a new paper detailing the experiments, published this week in the journal Physical Review Letters.
"What I'm very excited about is we are showing how the crystal lattice, how this diamond structure that silicon starts out with, is related to this ending structure, this hexagonal structure," said Gupta.
"We were able to show how the two structures are linked in real time."